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Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Suite in D major (Troisième Livre de pièces de viole, 1711) [20:19]
Suite in A minor (Cinquième Livre de pièces de viole, 1725) [15:32]
Suite “Le Labyrinthe” (Quatrième Livre de pièces à une et trois violes, 1717) [10:14]
Suite in E minor (Deuxième Livre de pièces de viole, 1701) [19:26]
Juan Manuel Quintana (viola da gamba), Dolores Costoyas (theorbo), Attilio Cremonesi (harpsichord)
rec. Château du Touvet, Isère, November 1997. DDD

Formerly issued as Harmonia Mundi HMC905248, this sampler of the suites for viola da gamba by the great French master Marin Marais has some considerable virtues and only minor weaknesses.
One clear strength is that it gives us examples of Marais’s work from almost the whole span of his career – from the Second Livre, published in 1701 - but containing work written as early as the 1680s - to the Fifth – and last – Livre, published three years before his death. It is worth noting, however, that by concentrating mainly on the dance suites, rather than on character pieces, the emphasis very much falls on a single (though admittedly richly complex) side of Marais’s achievement. So we have a number of allemandes, courantes, gigues, sarabandes, menuets and gavottes; what we have less of are the ‘character’ pieces such as Tableau de l'operation de la Talle. The one exception here is ‘Le Labyrinthe’, from the Suite d’un gout étranger included in the fourth Livre. Évrard Titon du Tillet (1877-1762) described ‘Le Labyrinthe’ very well in saying that in it “by moving through different keys, requiring diverse dissonances, insisting on the lowest notes, then the highest, Marais depicts the quandary of a man lost in a labyrinth; happily he finds his way out – and we are rewarded with a graceful chaconne”. Quintana and his colleagues do appropriate justice to this piece, though I have heard it played with a richer expressiveness.
Similarly, in the ‘Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe’, Marais’s tribute to his erstwhile teacher, this trio isn’t quite as emotionally expressive as some accounts; there is more dignity than pathos in this performance, but it works very well on its own terms.
It is in the dance movements that Quintana and his colleagues are at their very best. High points include the gigues in the suites in D major, A minor and E minor; the gavottes in the D major and A minor suites and the rondeaux in the suites in D major and E minor. It is in the dance movements that the choice of continuo instruments (theorbo and harpsichord, rather than harpsichord and second viol) pays the greatest dividends. Particularly memorable is the ‘Rondeau moitié pincé et moitié coup d’archet’, which closes the A minor suite, in which Dolores Costoyas plucked theorbo blends beautifully with Quintana’s viola da gamba.
Quintana, who studied with Christophe Coin and Paolo Pandolfo, has a consistent, sympathetic vision of the music. He seems to respond most fully to its social dimensions, particularly its formalisation of the dance music of its age, rather than to its more inward dimensions, but this is a valid reading of Marais’s idiom and the results are everywhere enjoyable and pleasing.

Glyn Pursglove


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